Our Ever-Changing Backyard

15 March 2023 | Mljet National Park, Croatia
11 December 2022 | Uvala Przina, Pelješac Peninsula, Croatia
20 November 2022 | Uvala Podškolj, Croatia
05 November 2022 | Lopud, Croatia
21 August 2022 | Monopoli, Italy
03 August 2022 | Croatia
20 July 2022 | Marina d'Arechi, Salerno, Italy
03 July 2022 | Marina d'Arechi, Salerno, Italy
11 June 2022 | New Zealand to Italy
19 May 2022 | Kensington, Whangarei, NZ
07 June 2021 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
26 March 2021 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ
24 March 2021 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, NZ

Mljet National Park, Croatia

15 March 2023 | Mljet National Park, Croatia
Vandy Shrader
We were finally going to check out Mljet National Park!

After saying goodbye to lovely Uvala Przina, we headed toward the northwest tip of Mljet Island, where the park is located, seventeen miles away.

We took our time getting there, hoping that if we arrived around midday, some of the charter boats would have left for their next destination, leaving us some room to anchor in Uvala Polače before the afternoon bolus of charter boats arrived.

This had become our standard procedure, once summer set in and Croatia's waterways and anchorages were packed with boats. Europeans are comfortable anchoring a lot closer to other boats, than we are, so by getting there early, we saved ourselves the anxiety of arriving in an anchorage that we would consider too full. Europeans don't care if they can jump from your boat to theirs; they just put their fenders out. We're not there yet. Plus, many of the boats are charters, not someone's home.

Awildian and a buddy

Uvala Polače is sheltered by several small rocky islets, which make for a circuitous but beautiful trip along the passage from the main channel into the anchorage.

My interpretation LOL

Along the way, we saw several boats that had tucked up into slight indentations in the shore, dropping their anchor and then tying to trees or rocks. We hadn't done the "tying to land" procedure yet, preferring to be away from shore when we anchor.

The Polače anchorage was bigger than I expected, and deeper - 35 to 40 feet in most of it. In spite of the large open anchoring area, quite a few boats had chosen to drop their anchor near shore, back up until their stern was almost touching, and tie to trees or rocks. We dropped Awildian's anchor in 37 feet of murky turquoise water (which jives with reports that it has a muddy bottom), well away from shore, where he could swing around.

We'd read that the park rangers would come by to collect the daily fee for anchoring - 600 kuna, or about $83. When they did, they were friendly and spoke excellent English. We asked them for the 3-day pass, which would have cost quite a bit more, but they said, "You can stay as long as you like. Just show this receipt when a ranger comes by."

I mention this because for some reason Croatia has gotten a bad reputation for being overly expensive and for price gouging. During our three months in Croatia, we experienced none of that.

When the anchor was down and we'd waited a little while to make sure it was set in the mud, we took our dinghy to shore and enjoyed lunch at a small shoreside restaurant.

Eric in the restaurant

Afterwards, we asked where we could drop our rubbish and were told there was a place about 100 meters up the road, where we could dinghy to. So we got back in our dinghy and scooted along the shoreline about half a kilometer (we've learned that when people say "about 100 meters" they usually mean a bit more) until we found a small concrete dock with a trail leading up through the bushes. Sure enough, the trail intersected a road and there sat about a half-dozen rubbish bins, well-hidden from the shoreline. We deposited our rubbish and headed back to Awildian for a swim.

The next day, I went for a hike in the scrubby forest that bordered the anchorage. Earlier, I'd seen a small family of goats wandering there, but they had moved on by the time I arrived.

No goats now

The day was hot and sticky. Even the birds were quiet, probably hanging out in the shade, up in the pines.

The cicadas were singing their hearts out, though. They ascribe to a "live fast, die young" timeline.

Out of the ground, out of his skin, up the tree to sing

In the afternoon, the wind picked up. The forecast was for strong winds beginning in the night and continuing for a couple of days. As the day wore on, the anchorage became a melange of all kinds of big tourist boats, who were coming to Polače, as we had, because it is such a sheltered anchorage. Most of them backed up to the shore and tied, but some swung with us.

One steel tourist boat came very close to us, its captain having decided that he wanted to back up to the shore directly behind us. It took him several tries. Despite the strong wind, and the presence of Awildian and another catamaran anchored nearby, he kept dropping his anchor slightly in front of us, then trying to maneuver between us, coming within only a few feet of us a couple of times as the wind blew him around. It ended up all right, with him tied to the shore behind us, but it was a bit dodgy for a few minutes.

I'd like to know what Europeans' fascination is, with anchoring along the shore, with their stern tied to a tree or rock, and within easy reach of land-based bugs like mosquitoes and wasps. With all this lovely, open water available, with just an anchor drop, why spend a lot of extra time and effort to drop anchor, back to shore, and tie on to something, often requiring several do-overs before you're done.

The next morning we dinghied to shore and rented a couple of e-bikes.

Our bikes

My sister, who'd visited Mljet National Park only a few weeks earlier, had recommended e-bikes and she was right. After paying our entrance fee, we headed out. This was our first experience with e-bikes. Both of us were impressed by how easy it was to power up the hills. I could get used to that!

Two of Mljet's main attractions are Veliko Jezero (Big Lake) and Malo Jezero (Small Lake). Though their names are mundane, their appearance is anything but: two shining, blue-and-turquoise gems with crystal-clear water, connected to each other and to the Adriatic Sea by a couple of narrow canals.

Mljet's lakes

We enjoyed biking the roads that ringed the lakes, gawking at the beautiful scenery and occasionally stopping to cool our feet in the water.

Coolin' my feet

The day was very warm - in the upper 90's F (mid-30's C) - and we appreciated any shade that happened to fall across the road.

At one point we saw a sign that said "Lookout," and since we suspected that this was a scenic vista and not a warning, we parked our bikes and set off along the rocky trail. It was a hot and dusty hike, but fortunately not more than about a kilometer. We were hoping that at the end of it would be a nice overlook of the lake. But when the path ended, we were on a cliff overlooking the Adriatic Sea. "The Sea?!" we said, disappointed. "We see plenty of seas!"

The Sea view

I suppose other people don't see quite as much of the ocean as we do, and it was kind of pretty, but we were hoping for a different view.
So we turned around and hiked back, catching a nice glimpse of Veliko Jezero on our way to our bikes.

Veliko Jezero and the monastery island

In Veliko Jezero is a small island (Sveta Marija or Islet Maria) upon which is a Benedictine monastery. We'd been admiring the pretty island as we rode along, and when we came around a corner, we saw this sign:

It's a bit hard to read, but it says:
"Free boat to restaurant. Use the flag."

Use the flag

Apparently the monastery now also has a restaurant. A group of people had just followed the instructions on the sign, and sure enough a small skiff was setting out from the island. We decided to follow suit.

Our ride approaches

We enjoyed our lunch at the small restaurant and then took a stroll, exploring the monastery and its grounds, with the requisite Roman ruins in their backyard.

Some photos for the monastery buffs:

We learned that the Benedictine monks had built their monastery on top of some previously sacred ruins, sometime between 1151 (when they were given the island by a duke) and 1220 (when the monastery is first mentioned in sacred documents). A long time ago, anyway.

After lunch, we rode along the canal that connects Veliko Jezero to the Sea, past a couple of low dams that had been placed diagonally in the flow to collect floating trash ("mostly from Albania," the sign informed us). Near the end of the road was an arched footbridge over the canal, with stairs, which had been kitted out to allow e-bikes to be more easily walked across. Metal troughs had been placed on the stone stairs, creating ramps with just the right width for bike tires. I had a hard enough time walking my heavy bike up and over the bridge; I wouldn't want to have to haul it up and down the stairs. Unless you wanted to ride all the way back around the way you'd come, you had to cross the canal and resume the loop on the other side.

The arched bridge

When we got back to Polače, we were thoroughly sweaty and tired. After returning the e-bikes and dinghying back to Awildian, we changed into our swimsuits and jumped into the water to cool off. The wind had died down, most of the big tourist boats had gone to other destinations, and we enjoyed a quiet evening, our last in Mljet National Park.

Beautiful Przina

11 December 2022 | Uvala Przina, Pelješac Peninsula, Croatia
Vandy Shrader
Uvala Przina
Pelješac Peninsula, Croatia

June 24-28, 2022

Uvala Przina was just as we'd hoped it would be: beautiful, protected, sandy-bottomed, and (for most of the day) uncrowded. When we pulled into the small cove, only two other boats were anchored there: a large Bali charter cat more or less in the middle of the space, and a small fishing launch to his right. We steered Awildian into the large space to the left of the cat and dropped our anchor into a big patch of bright white sand.

What a lovely spot! The sides of the small bay rose up to gray-white peaks, their slopes completely covered in pine trees, from whose branches birds and cicadas sang. A sandy beach, backed by more trees, with a lone house tucked into one corner, occupied the head of the cove. The clear water underneath Awildian created a delightfully random tapestry of light and dark turquoise, courtesy of the patches of sand and weeds. It was mesmerizing to look out through the fish TVs at the underwater world.

During the next couple of hours, a dozen charter boats arrived. All of them anchored on the right side of the cove, between the Bali cat and the shore, leaving us on our own on the left side. We don't know why they preferred to cram into that one area, rather than anchoring on the left side, but it was ok with us. Their passengers jumped into the water or swam to the beach to enjoy the sunshine. After hanging out in Przina for a couple of hours, they pulled up their anchors and left, leaving the anchorage to us until the following morning, when the next batch of charter boats arrived. Eric and I wondered if the charterers had a checklist of places they wanted to visit during their holiday in Croatia, so they couldn't afford to spend too much time in each place.

One of the luxuries of cruising is being able to take our time.

Not one of the luxuries of cruising, is having to do boat work. While we were at Przina, Eric decided to clean Awildian's hulls, using a scraper and the hookah. The water was a reasonable temperature and as it had been awhile since Awildian had enjoyed a spa treatment, he had a bit of a grass skirt going on. Meanwhile, I cleaned Awildian's stainless steel with Barkeeper's Friend. By the end of the day, Awildian was sleek, slick, and shiny again.

By the way, we haven't seen any of the Mediterranean fan worms that have become the scourge of New Zealand's coastal waters. Since they're native to here, we expected they'd be growing on all the boats and docks. But no. Not one. Maybe they're all in New Zealand, rabble rousing.

A nice spot for a house!

While cutting a cauliflower that had been in our fridge for several days, I exposed a fat, green, groggy - and very lucky - caterpillar! He was unharmed, tucked into one of the crevices. I set him up in a little plastic dish with a paper towel roof, with a bit of cauliflower, and pieces of lettuce and cabbage leaves (in case he had a preference). Almost immediately he began to spin some silk. If he metamorphoses, I thought, I'll keep him safe until he's done, and then release him where flowers are growing.

One day we decided to go to shore and do a bit of exploring on land. I'd seen a guy in a dinghy pull up his outboard and begin paddling when he got about fifty yards from shore. From where we were in Awildian, I couldn't tell why he'd done that. There aren't any bommies in Croatia, or coral reefs, so it wasn't that. I told Eric about this as we were motoring toward shore, after we'd scooped a shiny green beetle out of the water. When we were about fifty yards out the reason became clear: a shelf of sand-colored rock extended out from the beach, creating an area of very shallow water. The rock blended in with the sand of the deeper water, so you couldn't tell it was there until you were almost on top of it. Very sneaky! It would have had the same disastrous effect on an outboard motor, as a South Pacific coral reef would. At least coral reefs telegraph their location by being a different color than the deeper water around them.

Look ma, no swell!

We beached the dinghy and walked through the trees, depositing the shiny green beetle on a branch, and continuing on a trail until we came to a dirt road. To our right, the road eventually ended at the house; we went left.

I like to look down, as well as around, while I'm walking, and was intrigued by the many caravans of large black ants winding their way along and beside the dirt road. Many were carrying seeds and small sticks, and I followed several trails to their nests, watching the ants disappear down the central hole. I was surprised to see that there were also ants coming out of the hole with seeds in their jaws, and depositing them in a pile off to one side. Were they making an offering to the local grasshopper mafia, like in A Bug's Life? On taking a closer look, I realized that only the husks of the seeds were in the trash heaps. The ants must be shucking the seeds and eating them in their nests, then disposing of the husks. I didn't know they did that sort of thing. Live and learn.

Besides ants, we also saw signs of humans along the road: several abandoned houses, and an old tombstone. We wondered if some of the houses had belonged to Serbs who had fled during the war in the 1990s.

Certainly no one had claimed the houses in the meantime. Being around them gave us a feeling of unease. The stories these houses could tell.

The tombstone was all by itself in a small clearing just off the road.

Someone had spent a lot of time cutting steps in the stone hillside next to the road, making it easier to reach the grave.

Using Google Translator we were able to read the tombstone: "Here lies Martin Prkačjn. Memorial is raised by brother Andreji and his grateful sons." And at the bottom, "1934".

And on the flat part of the grave, a smaller headstone that reads "IVANA Supruga Martinova 1884-1950".

I'd love to know the story of this family.

We enjoyed a few days at Przina and then decided it was time to head for the north end of Mljet, and finally visit the national park.

Uvala Podškolj - A hidden gem, with a fabulous restaurant, too

20 November 2022 | Uvala Podškolj, Croatia
Vandy Shrader
June 23-24
Uvala Podškolj 42°42.314'N/17°44.673'E

When we pulled up our anchor at Lopud, we headed toward Otok Mljet, the 23-mile-long island whose southern tip lay about 9 miles to the west of Lopud. We knew that we wanted to eventually visit Mljet National Park at the northern end of the island, but today we left our options open as to where we'd stop along its coast. The day was sunny and nearly calm, with a few knots of wind coming from the customary direction of "right in front of us." So it was another day for Thing 1 and Thing 2 to provide our propulsion.

As we motored along, enjoying the scenery - blue water, white rocks, green pines - I checked Navily for nearby anchorages. One of the anchorages on the southern end of the island looked interesting and had good reviews on Navily. It also had a weedy bottom, which meant that anchoring would be suboptimal to difficult, but it sported several restaurant moorings to tie up to as an alternative. We decided to check it out.

Rounding the end of a tiny islet, we motored through the narrow, shallow passage to discover a stunning hidden gem of a place. The Uvala Podškolj anchorage was tucked into a narrow slot between the rocky coastline and a long, low, rocky island (Veliki Školj) that was currently being used as a rookery by hundreds of yellow-legged gulls. Eight large mooring buoys bobbed in the water, seven of them available. We chose one and tied Awildian up to it.

What a cool spot! Clouds of gulls circled over the little island and paddled near its shore, fragrant Aleppo pine trees stood on the mainland shore; Awildian floated on clear water through which we could see bright green blades of sea grass waving in the current, with fish swimming among them.

The gulls' island

We called Konoba Stermasi ("konoba" means tavern), to let them know that we'd taken one of their moorings. Adrian (pronounced "Ah-dree-ahn") answered and we had a nice chat; he told me that he was the owner of the family-run restaurant, and asked if we preferred to have lunch or dinner. We opted for dinner. So there we were, all settled in by 11 am.

We enjoyed the rest of the day. I spent hours watching the gulls - all ages were present, from fluffy, mottled gray babies, to squawking, full-grown adults - and scanning the pine trees for other birds.

The piney shore

I did some writing. Eric played bass and spent some time getting a Raspberry Pi working with our navigation data. We both peeked at the underwater world through Awildian's "fish TVs" (glass escape hatches, one in each hull).

We took our dinghy to shore at 6:30, and tied to the little concrete dock. From there, we walked up the hill along a winding, pine-shaded road, to Konoba Stermasi, which perched at the top, overlooking the inlet.

Adrian met us at the door and welcomed us in. As he led us to our table, we walked past a room adjacent to the kitchen that was full of big, burly men who were eating dinner at a long table. It looked like Adrian provided dinner for the fishermen and others who supplied the restaurant with its raw materials. We thought that was pretty cool.

Adrian and his family all participated in the running of the restaurant. Adrian told us that his mother made the gnocchi (she was also serving), and his wife made some of the other pastas. His daughter was pouring water and clearing plates. He probably had some other kin in the kitchen. It was truly a family affair, and well done at that.

It was at Konoba Stermasi that we were introduced to what became our favorite variety of Croatian red wine: Dingač (that's pronounced "din-gach"). Dingač is produced from plavac mali grapes, which are native to the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. In taste it approximates a zinfandel. Prompting Eric to call it "the zins of our fathers," a bad pun alluding to my Croatian heritage.

Adrian came by with the requisite silver platter of seafood offerings - freshly caught red scorpionfish, sea bass, sea bream, monkfish, and some woozy lobsters. I opted for a sea bream (they grill the fish whole here), and Eric chose a local wild boar dish that included Grandma's gnocchi. Even though this was a small, family-run restaurant, everything was done with panache: from the artistic presentations, to the creative menu items, to Adrian's in-depth and interesting descriptions of the wine and the food ingredients, to the classy way Adrian's young daughter, white tea towel over her forearm, poured the water.

A pretty dessert

As the evening went on, more people came into the restaurant, from several different countries, most of them from boats on moorings. The lively conversation floating in the air was flavored by many different languages. Adrian and his family - who'd spoken to us in flawless English - slipped smoothly from Croatian to English to French to Italian to German as they spoke with different people. We were impressed.

After dinner, our server offered us a selection of home-made after-dinner drinks, on the house. One was "strong," she told us, "like grappa." The other was "sweet, made with blueberries." We opted for one of each. I liked the sweet one much better. Though the grappa might make a good substitute, should we run out of fuel for our dinghy motor.

The next morning at first light (around 5 am), the gulls started their day, with lots of raucous conversation. We got up a little while later, and tuned in to the Mediterranean Cruisers' HF radio Net (the MedNet) at 8 am. Eric checked in and chatted with the net controller, a British bloke named Alan on a boat named Ticketeeboo (yes that's how he spells it), who was somewhere in Greece. We heard from one other boat, who was also somewhere in Greece, but that was it. We'd been expecting a much larger crowd of cruisers on the MedNet, since there are so many people on boats here, but for the whole summer, it was the same three or four participants every day. We were a bit disappointed.

When we were in the Pacific, we'd been active participants - and were even net controllers - on several HF radio nets there: the Puddle Jump Net when we'd crossed from Mexico to Nuku Hiva, the Polynesian Magellan Net (PolyMagNet) for the ride across the rest of the South Pacific, and the South Pacific Cruisers' Net (SoPacNet) into which it morphed later on. The nets created a huge community of cruisers, spread across oceans, sharing advice, suggestions, and knowledge about all kinds of things; reporting current weather conditions; and in one case even providing the location of the single roving Customs boat in a certain island nation, so you could know if you had a chance of being boarded. We enjoyed being connected with other cruisers who were nearby or hundreds - sometimes thousands - of miles away. It was nice to hear another voice when we were out on the blue, seemingly alone, and reassuring to know that if we needed something or got into trouble, there was a network of cruisers out there who were listening. I can't tell you how many times we "met" people on the radio nets, before meeting them in person. When we did meet them, we felt like we already knew them, and it was fun to see whether they looked they way we'd imagined them!

Which is why we were disappointed that there were so few cruisers on the MedNet. It could've been a really great source of information and community for us, especially as we're new to the area. At first we thought the lack of participation was specific to the MedNet, but we've since heard from our friend Andy, who is the net controller for the SoPacNet, that the number of participants in that net has also dwindled in recent years, from a few dozen to a handful. Many cruisers, it seems, are choosing to use sat phones rather than HF radios to communicate now. To each his own, but we feel they're missing out on all that HF radio nets have to offer.

Though we were in a lovely spot, we were on a restaurant mooring, which meant that we'd either have to leave today or eat dinner out again. Since we didn't really want to have dinner out again right away, we consulted Navily for places to go. First we looked at going north along the coast of Mljet. As most of these anchorages had moorings or restaurant quays, and we wanted to anchor, we kept looking. Next we checked for anchorages across the Mljetski Kanal, on the Pelješac Peninsula, which runs roughly parallel to Mljet. At the southern end of the peninsula was an anchorage in a little "fishhook" cove, which Navily called "Przina." Navily users commented that it was "quiet" and "uncrowded"; some of our friends who'd anchored there had remarked that there was "nothing there." All of this sounded really good to Eric and me, so we untied Awildian from the mooring and waved goodbye to the gulls as we rounded their island.

Elaphites, ghost hotels, f-ing ferries, and fireworks

05 November 2022 | Lopud, Croatia
Vandy Shrader
June 21-22, 2022
Cista Luka 42°35.39'N/18°13.40'E
Donje Čelo (Otok Kolocep) 42°40.872'N/18°00.206'E
Uvala Lopud (Otok Lopud) 42°41.272'N/17°56.368'E

Our route

The big picture

This morning, after a nice brekkie and a lovely phone call with our friends, Annie & Liam, who are still in New Zealand waiting for a weather window to sail north, we pulled up Awildian's anchor and headed north ourselves. We only need a teeny tiny weather window to travel these days, since we don't travel far.

Today, we had a few possible anchorages in mind, but we were planning to keep going until we decided that we wanted to drop the anchor somewhere.

We motored slowly along the coast, taking in the sights. Until we'd returned to Awildian in the anchorage after touring Dubrovnik, I hadn't realized that the patch of rusty red I'd been seeing in the distance was actually the roofs of the Old Town. It really wasn't that far from Cavtat.

Along the way, we passed reminders of the bloody Homeland War: Bombed-out husks of hotels perched along the shore of pretty Župa Bay at Kupari stood testament to the violence. These once-posh resorts, frequented by the upper crust of the Yugoslav Army, had been bombed by what the Croatian Homeland War Museum referred to in their exhibits as "the so-called Yugoslav Army" during the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991.

Kupari ghosts

After the hotels had been bombed, they were looted for any valuable items before being systematically burned floor by floor. In the spirit of "life goes on," the beaches in front of the ruins are once again packed with sunbathers and swimmers, who seem unconcerned by the stark backdrop.

Hotel Kupari

Hotel Peregrin

Here's a link to some before-and-after photos of the hotels.

We motored close to shore as we approached, and then passed, Dubrovnik, affording some excellent views of the city and its walls and towers. It was fun to see them from "the other side." It certainly was an imposing edifice.

Dubrovnik walls

Hotel Belvedere, another bombed-out hotel closer to Dubrovnik

After our slow-motion cruise-by, we moved away from the coast and PUT UP OUR SAILS! Ok, so the wind was only 2-3 knots, but it was from behind us for a change, which meant that with our miniscule forward motion, the apparent wind was on our beam. We turned off the Things (Thing 1 and Thing 2, our Yanmar engines) and enjoyed about an hour of quiet (and very slow) sailing. We weren't in a hurry to get anywhere, so we had that luxury.

In the mid-afternoon we decided to stop at Donje Čelo, an anchorage at the northern end of Otok Koločep that had good reviews on Navily. ("Otok" is "island" in Croatian; you'll be seeing it a lot in this blog.) Koločep is one of the Elaphite Islands, a small archipelago just north of Dubrovnik that was named by Pliny the Elder (whom, you may recall, also wrote first-hand about the eruption of Vesuvius that wiped out Pompeii and Herculaneum - that guy got around). "Elaphite" comes from the ancient Greek word "elaphos" which means "deer." According to Pliny, there were a lot of deer on the islands; sadly, they're all gone.

When we pulled into Donje Čelo at about 1 pm, a few boats were already in the anchorage, leaving us only a couple of options for places to drop our own anchor. We dropped it in a large empty area, a good distance from a cement quay, which we assumed was probably a ferry dock. We wondered how often a ferry came. The answer is: frequently. There may no longer be deer on the islands, but there are certainly lots of ferries.

The ferry dock at Donje Čelo (not my photo)

After we had lunch, Eric went downstairs to take a nap. I sat on the back porch, writing and looking longingly at the trees on shore, where I hoped to take the dinghy in the morning to do some birdwatching.

The first time the big ferry came, it disgorged some passengers, picked up others, and then backed out on the other side of the quay from us to turn around. No problem (I thought). But on his way past Awildian, the captain gave me a very dirty look.

An f-ing ferry (not my photo)

About an hour later, the same ferry returned, docked, did the passenger dance, and backed up on the other side of the quay again. But when he passed by us this time - very close, I might add - he not only gave me a very dirty look, but he also blew the ship's horn, hollered something at me in Croatian and gestured vehemently. One did not need to understand Croatian to gather that he was telling us to clear off. Apparently, this big open space where we were anchored was his usual turning-around area, and he was not pleased to have a sailboat in it.

Not wanting to see how things escalated the third time the ferry came, I woke Eric up and told him the sad news that we'd have to find a different anchorage. There really wasn't a suitable spot for us in this one. I was peeved: I'd been looking forward to exploring the island tomorrow; also it was now about 4:30 pm, and we were pretty sure that anywhere we went would already be crowded. "F-ing ferry," I grumbled, a phrase that stuck for the rest of the time we were in Croatia, whenever we saw a ferry.

Consulting Navily, I found us a likely looking anchorage at the north end of Otok Lopud, another Elaphite Island, about 4 nm away.

We saw this along the way

Reported to be a wide, sandy bay, Uvala Lopud (remember, "uvala" means "cove") was in fact. But at 5:45 pm, it was already crowded with boats. Quite a few moorings also dotted the scene, further limiting our choices.

We had a heck of a time, finding a place to anchor that wasn't too close (by our standards) to another boat, or to the moorings, or to the swimming areas, or wasn't too shallow. Three times, we dropped our anchor, three times we pulled it up when we decided that it wasn't right. All the while, the sun was sinking lower in the sky, making it difficult for me to differentiate between sandy spots (= good) and weedy patches (= bad). At one point during this process, the metal thimble of the anchor bridle got wedged between the anchor shank and the side of the anchor slot, jamming the anchor so that it couldn't move. It took a couple of minutes, but Eric was able to wrench them apart. It was all quite a fiasco. Fortunately, we had our "marriage saver" headsets on, so while there was no yelling, I can tell you that there were plenty of quiet testy exchanges. Still, it was evident that today WE were the entertainment for the crews of the anchored boats. Some of them were even sitting on their foredecks with cocktails while they watched. I hope they enjoyed the performance; we weren't planning to have an encore.

Eventually we said "screw it," drove over to the mooring buoys, selected one, and executed a perfect pickup. At least we got that right! After our arrival rums, we floated the dinghy and drove to the dinghy dock at the restaurant that had supplied the moorings. We enjoyed a lovely dinner, which covered the cost of the mooring for the night.

Our waiter was a young man who said he was Serbian. I asked him how it is these days, for a Serb to be living and working in Croatia. He said, "it's fine, everyone gets along." That made us happy - and hopeful for the future. Things have changed since the days when the hotels were bombed.

Awildian waiting

The next day, another sunny hot summer day, we took our dinghy to shore and explored the tiny town. We strolled along the waterfront, with its charming old stone buildings. Two churches, a 15th Century monastery, a defunct and delapidated hotel, a small-boat marina with a ferry dock, several holiday apartments, a few restaurants, and three places to buy ice cream, made up the town.

Scenes aroud Lopud:

The school, old and new

The delapidated hotel

The monastery

The Lopud Fire Department

At around noon, one of the restaurant staff came out to Awildian in the restaurant's launch and asked us, very nicely and with lots of apologies, if we would please leave the mooring to make space for the lunch crowd. We obliged, and as most of yesterday's boats had left the bay by this time, creating lots of room, we had no problem anchoring.

Lopud sunset

This was the first night of the Lopud Film Festival, and a big screen had been erected in front of the one swanky hotel. A poster on shore informed us that tonight's movie would be "Fargo." We also suspected that there would be fireworks at some point, as a small fireworks barge that had been tied to shore all day was now floating in the middle of the bay, with a couple of men on it.

The fireworks began at 11:30 pm. We'd been asleep but we got up to watch the show.


The next morning, we looked outside and saw this:

Garbage collection, Lopud style

The barge carried the truck to several small jetties along the waterfront, where rubbish bins had been set up. Men emptied the bins into the garbage truck, then the barge moved along to the next jetty. It seemed a good solution to the problem of needing a big truck to pick up lots of rubbish, in a town with a tiny waterfront street. Most likely, the barge then took the truck to the mainland to be emptied.

Later in the morning, we pulled up Awildian's anchor and headed out, ready to explore some more of Croatia's beautiful island anchorages.

A day in Dubrovnik: in which we ride a cable car to the top of a mountain, take a tour of a really old town, and have a surprise meeting with a friend

09 October 2022 | Dubrovnik, Croatia
Vandy Shrader
One morning we got up early and took our dinghy into Cavtat, tied it up near Ivan's Restaurant, and walked the short distance to the bus terminal. We bought tickets to Dubrovnik - 25 kuna or about $3.50 each - and settled into our seats. We enjoyed the half-hour trip, mostly along the coast. The sea - blue and sparkling in the morning sun - lay to our left. On our right, dry, rocky, rolling hills stretched away into the eastern distance. At one point on our trip, a couple of women crossed themselves. I wondered whether the next bit of road was particularly treacherous, or whether they were honoring someone who had died nearby. I was hoping for the latter.

We got off the bus at the "cable car" stop, and after looking around for a way to cross the busy highway, discovered the pedestrian underpass made for that purpose. Safely on the other side of the road, it was a ten minute walk downhill to Dubrovnik's Old Town. Wandering through a warren of narrow stone walkways, and down several stone staircases, we eventually arrived at the "Dubravka 1836" restaurant, where we were to meet our tour guide.

A pretty walkway

Lucia was in her mid-twenties, a native Dubrovnikian who spoke perfect, American-accented English. Later in the tour, Eric asked her where she had learned English with an American accent. She said that she'd watched a lot of American television while growing up.

Our first stop was the lower terminus of Dubrovnik's cable car. Built in the middle of the twentieth century, and then destroyed in the 1990s during what Croatians call the "Homeland War," the cable car circuit was rebuilt by a Swiss company in the early 2000s, becoming fully operational in 2010. As we rode up the side of Mount Srđ behind Dubrovnik, we had spectacular views of the Old Town with its walls, the Adriatic Sea and several nearby islands.

View from the cable car

At the top of the mountain, we were treated to more impressive vistas, and we explored the outside of Fort Imperial.

The view looking north from Fort Imperial

Fort Imperial was built in the early 1800s to defend the eastern (land) side of Dubrovnik, and it came in handy on December 6, 1991. Early on that morning, the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) attacked the fort, as well as Old Town Dubrovnik, a UNESCO site, killing civilians and destroying many buildings, provoking condemnation from the international community. Dubrovnik was successfully defended on that day by 163 soldiers, who halted the JNA's advance, one of the turning points of the war. The fort houses the Homeland War Museum, which we weren't able to visit that day, since we were on a tour.

Back down in the cable car, we walked through one of Dubrovnik's original city gates and began our tour of the Old Town. As we walked, often shoulder to shoulder with the passengers from a couple of cruise ships, Lucia showed us some of Dubrovnik's many ornate cathedrals and churches, informing us several times that "Croatia always has been and always will be Catholic."

"Always has been and always will be..."

She shared the history of many of the buildings, and took us to a pretty little square that had some fragrant Aleppo pines in whose shade cats napped and pigeons pecked, and high above, twittering swifts sliced through the air like jet fighters. The town was full of pigeons, who lived in the Old Town alongside the humans. Like Croatian Catholicism, they probably "always have been and always will be."

Restaurant pigeons

Dubrovnik has had a very busy history, having been occupied or governed by a revolving door of nations since its inception.

- Back in the dark mists of ancient times, it was home to the Illyrians (including the "Delmati"
tribe, from which the term "Dalmatia" is derived; Dalmatia is the name for the region that encompasses the Croatian coast).

- The Ostrogoths (late 5th century - 537 A.D.)

- Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire (537 A.D. - 1205)

- Republic of Venice (1205 - 1358)

- Autonomous Republic of Ragusa (1358-1808) During this period, the government of Dubrovnik instituted what were very enlightened policies for the time: they established a medical system, opened a pharmacy in 1317 (which is still in operation today), built shelters for the elderly and for orphans, had a hospital dedicated to isolating people who were suffering from infectious diseases, abolished the slave trade, and constructed a 20km-long water supply system which was in continuous use until the middle of the 20th century, and whose outlet (the Onofrio fountain) is still operating.
As an interesting aside, when it was discovered that some of the city's residents were boring holes into the aqueduct and channeling the water into their own homes, a law was instituted that made it illegal to do this; offenders would lose their right arm. I imagine that solved the problem.
Lucia told us that April 6,1667 was a really bad day for Dubrovnik. At about 8 am, the city was rocked by a big earthquake, which destroyed most of its buildings and killed more than 5,000 people. The resulting tsunami swamped the port and the coastal areas, and sank all the ships. Then a fire burned in the city for 20 days.

- France (1808-1815)

- Austria (1815-1918)

- Becomes part of the new nation of Yugoslavia (1918-1991)

- Becomes part of the breakaway nation of Croatia (1991-present)

Okay, enough history. Back to the tour.

We filled our water bottles at the Onofrio fountain, whose many outlets still provide cool, clean water four centuries after it was built to provide the residents of Dubrovnik with a reliable water supply.

Van at the Onofrio Fountain

We strolled along Stradun, Dubrovnik's wide main street, an expansive boulevard lined with outdoor restaurants, ice cream vendors, and souvenir shops.

Speaking of souvenirs, the multitude of Game of Thrones-themed souvenir shops tipped us off that some of the series had been filmed in Dubrovnik. Apparently, Cersei took her walk of shame down the stairs and through the streets of Old Town Dubrovnik, accompanied by jeering townspeople and enhanced by CGI. Neither of us knew that, being probably the only people on the planet who haven't seen the series. Fans can even book a Game of Thrones-themed tour of Dubrovnik.

We visited the famous Bard Bar, with its cliff-top terrace on the outside of the city walls, accessed from inside the city walls through a passageway. The view of the rocky shoreline and the shining sea from the terrace are spectacular.

Bard Bar Terrace

When our tour ended, Eric and I decided to walk back through the Old Town, looking for the pizza restaurant that Lucia had recommended. The narrow streets were packed with people. As we were walking, we heard someone shout, "Eric!"

Eric and I didn't expect that he was the Eric being called, because we didn't know anybody in Dubrovnik, or in all of Croatia, for that matter. But it turns out that we were wrong. We turned around and saw a smiling face that we both recognized...it was our cruising friend, Josè!

We'd met Josè back in 2015 when we were all living on our boats in Mexico. Eric and I were on SCOOTS and Josè's boat was named Carthago. We sailed across the Pacific within a few weeks of each other, crossing paths in French Polynesia, and later in New Zealand and Fiji. We'd last seen Josè in Fiji in 2019.

After big smiles and bigger hugs, and "what the heck are you doing here?!"s, we found a little pizza restaurant, where we, Josè, and his friend, Joao, sat down to enjoy some pizza and beer, and a lot of catching up.

Jose, Van, and Eric

Josè and Joao had just finished a few weeks working as skipper and crew for one of the Dubrovnik-based charter boat fleets, and would be leaving Croatia the next day. He'd just happened to see us moving along the crowded street. You never know when - or where - you'll meet one of your cruising friends!

After lunch, we all got ice creams at Peppino's, one of Dubrovnik's finest gelaterias, and then said our "see you later"s, because odds are we probably will.

Eric and I walked the short distance to Fort Lovrijenac. Situated on an outcropping just outside of the city walls, Fort Lovrijenac was built during the 11th century to defend Dubrovnik from the Venetians.

We walked through the rooms and climbed up onto the ramparts of the fort, happily breaking with our European tradition of only being able to see the outside of fortresses.

A pretty nice spot for a kayak concession (tucked into the little beach)

These days, the Venetians are pretty docile, and the fort is used for the production of plays.

A view toward Old Town Dubrovnik from the Fort

After touring the fort, we were ready to find the bus stop and return to Cavtat. That turned out to take a bit longer than we expected. We had gotten off the bus next to three highway lanes all going north, with no southbound lanes in sight. We weren't sure where to catch the bus going in the other direction. After what seemed like hours (but was probably more like 30 minutes) of ferreting along narrow walkways, plodding up and down stairways, and tramping along the edges of roads, both of us grumpy and sweaty in the oppressive summer heat, we finally found the correct bus stop and sat down to wait for our ride to appear. Which it did after a little while, shuttling us back along the coast (some passengers crossed themselves at the same piece of road as on our northbound trip) to Cavtat, where we retrieved our dinghy, zipped across the bay to Awildian, stripped down to our skivvies, and jumped in the water to cool off. We were done with history and sightseeing and crowds, ready to relax with a cold gin and tonic and play some cards.

Cavtat - our first taste of Croatia. In which we enjoy Croatian cuisine, take some walks, do some boat work, and reset our anchor twice in one night during a bora

18 September 2022 | Cavtat, Croatia
Vandy Shrader

Cavtat, Croatia

When we awoke on our first morning in Croatia, Awildian was floating languidly on the calm water of Uvala Tiha; tall gray mountains rose up to the east, and the Adriatic Sea - dotted with a couple of low, rocky islands - lay to the west, sparkling in the morning sun. Through our "fish TVs" (the glass escape hatches in each hull), the water was a bright turquoise and so clear that I could see sand and weeds on the bottom, twenty-five feet below.

Awildian in Uvala Tiha

After breakfast, we took our dinghy the short distance into the small boat harbor, and tied to a ring set into the rock wall surrounding the harbor. We'd come to explore the little town of Cavtat (pronounced "tsahv-taht"), but also with more mundane intentions: buy some groceries, buy a postcard to send to my dad for Father's Day at the post office, replace the bottle of Aperol that had smashed during our passage. I'm happy to report that we accomplished all of them.

As we wandered along Cavtat's main street, some things stood out to us:

1. The buildings and streets are OLD. Like, really old. Centuries old. Buildings and streets that have been in continuous use since they were built, back in the days when the Native Americans still had North America to themselves. We gawked at the sturdy buildings, at the narrow cobblestone streets, at the forest green shutters beside the windows, utterly charmed by the medieval ambiance. You can't find anything like that in the US, or in any of the other places we'd sailed.
2. You can't throw a rock without hitting an ATM. Seriously, there is one about every fifty feet or so, on average, along Cavtat's one main street. The Croatians make it very easy for you to extract money (kunas) from your bank account...
3. ...to spend at the many restaurants and souvenir shops. There are almost as many of these, as there are ATMs. The lunch menus of the restaurants were all pretty much the same, offering pizza; fried or grilled squid, octopus, or fish; salads; and pasta dishes. Most of the restaurants had pleasant harborside seating, under canopies to deflect the Mediterranean sun. We chose one and enjoyed a nice lunch, with a small glass of one of the local beers (Ožujsko).
4. Almost everyone speaks English, and most of the signs include English along with Croatian.

Sometimes, he throws me a fish

After lunch, we strolled along the shady path that follows the shoreline of the rocky, tree-covered peninsula that juts out from Cavtat.

Along with the tall, pointy Mediterranean cypress, were Aleppo pines, which produce a sublimely sweet scent that wafts lightly in the air, and is uniquely Mediterranean. Looking down through the trees at the water, I was surprised to see how clear it was, and how it took on many different shades in combinations of blues and greens, which stood in beautiful contrast with the white rocks. Except for the different foliage, the shoreline reminded me of those of New Zealand.

The lack of a sandy beach didn't dissuade sunbathers, who perched or lounged on the rocks, sprawled under the hot sun, slowly baking their skin; we saw swatches of the entire palette of pink, magenta, and red on display.

After our walk, we set off in search of groceries, visiting a produce stand and all three of Cavtat's small markets, including one up a big hill that rewarded us with a commanding view of the town, the harbor, and the sea beyond.

The view from the top

Back down the hill, we fetched our dinghy and returned to Awildian.

We decided to have dinner out that night, at Restauran Ivan, (yes, "restauran" is a Croatian word) a restaurant at the edge of the small boat harbor. This time when we arrived with our dinghy, Ivan himself, an distinguished-looking elderly gentleman with a menu tucked under his arm, helped us tie up our dinghy, and offered me a hand to help me up onto the wall. As he walked with us into his restaurant and led us to a table, he told us that he had "fresh fish dinner for two, very good, I filet it for you."

Soon after we sat down, Ivan came over with a large platter, on which lay two different, good-sized fish. "Orada or sea bass," he said. "Very fresh. They were swimming this morning."
To which I couldn't stop myself from replying, "Well, I guess they're not having a very good night."

Ivan and his fresh fish

We ordered the fish-for-two dinner, both choosing orada (Croatian for sea bream), along with a bottle of Pošip wine (pronounced "poship"), a white that my sister, Tara, had recommended after her recent visit to Croatia. The fish's arrival was presaged by our waiter coming over and sliding an extra leaf into the side of our table. Soon another young man brought our fish, which had been grilled whole, and which he proceeded to filet for us with tidy precision, as we chatted with him.

We asked him why it was that many of the Croatians - including him - spoke English with an American accent. He said that in his case, he'd studied at a hospitality academy in Dubrovnik, where the courses were taught by American instructors, in American English. He also mentioned that he was a member of the family who owned the restaurant.

A yummy dessert

It is so nice to be able to chat with people again! Our limited and very basic comprehension of Italian, really kept us from being able to have meaningful conversations with most people while we were there. Here in Croatia, where English is spoken by most people (at least the ones in the tourist centers), we can do that again, giving us more of an understanding and insight into the people and the place.

The next morning, after another calm night, we took care of a few boat projects - I cleaned the helm station and back porch (will we ever get rid of the Sahara mud?), we set out our cookbooks, which had soaked up most of the Aperol that had leaked from the bottle that broke on our trip across the Adriatic, and Eric organized his workshop.

Drying out the cookbooks

The forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms - which did develop in the mountains inland of us, giant white chef's hats blossoming into the sky, but didn't come our way - and the evening's entertainment would include a bora.

According to Wikipedia, a bora is "a northerly to north-easterly katabatic wind in areas near the Adriatic Sea." Basically, the wind blows down the tall mountains. Sometimes at hurricane force. Though the most powerful boras tend to happen in the winter, some do occur at other times. Sometimes they're forecast, sometimes not. Some places are more prone to them than others. There's a place in northern Croatia called the Velebit Channel, that's got a bad reputation for often having gale-force winds. We're not planning to go there.

Anyway, some strong NE winds were forecast for our part of Croatia overnight. We had set our anchor in a patch of sand, and while we had no reason to doubt its abilities, we always set an anchor alarm, to alert us if we've moved a certain distance outside of the area circumscribed by the length of anchor chain we'd let out, which would indicate that we were dragging. This night, as we were getting ready for bed, the wind started blowing from the NE, at 20-25 knots, with higher gusts.

Just to be ready, in case our anchor dragged, we made some preparations: we checked that Awildian's spreader light would allow me to see what I needed to, in order to work with the anchor, while not blinding Eric in the helm station. Check. We put the headsets that we use to communicate during anchoring (and other procedures) on the table, and made sure they were charged. Check.

Cavtat sunset

I wanted to trust our new anchor, I really did: it was heavy (88 pounds), it was the size recommended for our boat, it was sunk into some sand (which usually has good holding), it is classified as a Super High Holding Power anchor by Lloyd's of London, it had scored extremely high in all sorts of tests, and it had cost a pretty penny. I wanted to trust it, but as it hadn't been tested yet in much wind, I didn't. Not yet. Trust is earned, even trust in an anchor. To further complicate matters, the NE wind was exactly the opposite direction from the one we'd set our anchor in, which not only meant that Awildian's stern was now pointed at the shoreline (not all that far away), but also that the anchor would have to turn completely around and reset itself, to hold us in the new wind direction. Our anchor had scored really well in tests for re-setting, but how would it perform here, in this anchorage of sand and seagrass, an anchorage whose holding has been described as "unreliable"? So many unknowns. Too many for me to settle enough to go to bed, so I sat up, frequently checking Awildian's GPS track on our nav station computer.

When an anchor is set well, the boat will carve an arc along the edge of the circle at the limit of the anchor chain. I watched Awildian's track: it was creating a thick, roughly-crescent-shaped blob of tracks at the edge of the circle. Not the smooth arc I was hoping to see, but not the straight line back that would indicate the anchor was dragging. The wind was a steady 25 knots, gusting higher. During one particularly energetic gust, I saw Awildian's track bulge out, and then begin tracing a straight line back, toward the shoreline. Shit shit shit! We were dragging.

Before our anchor alarm had even gone off, I had woken Eric up. He turned on the foredeck light. We put on our headsets. He went to the helm station and started the engines. I went onto the foredeck, opened the anchor locker, and began pulling up our anchor. When it came up, I could see that it was cradling a big lump of muddy sand and seagrass plants. Apparently, before it could reset, it had encountered a patch of weeds; an anchor fouled like that couldn't bite into the bottom and reset itself.

As Eric moved Awildian forward, I poked at the muddy plant blob with a broom handle, clearing the anchor of its load. Some distance away across the black water - much farther from the shoreline - we decided to drop the anchor again. Since it was nighttime, I couldn't tell whether we were dropping in sand or weeds, so we just had to wing it. I dropped the anchor, which grabbed on the bottom and held. We both watched our GPS track for awhile, until we confirmed that Awildian's track was tracing a crescent. The wind was still blowing 20-25 knots, with those higher gusts. But at least it wasn't raining.

It took awhile before I was settled enough to go to sleep, but eventually I did, at 2 am.

I awoke to Eric saying, "Van! The anchor alarm is going off!" It was 4 am. We went upstairs and looked at our GPS track: sure enough, for whatever reason, our anchor had stopped holding us and we were dragging. Again. UGH!

We repeated the process as earlier. When I raised the anchor, it had a big wad of mud and weeds again. This time Eric drove Awildian all the way to the other side of the bay, which was upwind, where we'd have the entire bay to drag across, should the anchor let loose again. We dropped the anchor, set it, and watched our track. When Awildian began to trace an arc, we both went to bed.

The anchor held for the rest of the night. When I snorkeled over the anchor in the morning, I could see that it was set in sand. The wind was much calmer for the next three days, so calm in fact that we made plans to catch a bus from Cavtat to Dubrovnik, to explore the famous walled city.

Some Croatian words and phrases:
zdravo = hello
hvala = thank you
uvala = cove
tiha = quiet
restauran = restaurant
konoba = tavern
orada = sea bream

Vessel Name: Awildian, previously SCOOTS (2012-2021)
Vessel Make/Model: Leopard 48
Hailing Port: San Francisco, CA
Crew: Eric and Vandy Shrader
About: We've been living aboard full time since September 2014. We sailed our Able Apogee 50, SCOOTS, from 2012-2021, and are now aboard our Leopard 48, Awildian, since March 2022.
Awildian, previously SCOOTS (2012-2021)'s Photos - Arriving in Opua
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